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Bottomless Bliss

I typically have an aversion to advertisements offering bottomless anything. Bottomless Slurpies have endless stomach-aches and brain freezes waiting in the wings. Bottomless breadsticks will most certainly end in growing love handles. And there is really no worse idea than that of a bottomless beer.

That being said, of late, I have found myself thinking on the idea of bottomless bliss, and I have J. Oswald Sanders to thank for it.

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In his book The Joy of Following Jesus, Sanders translates each of the beatitudes with the exclamatory introduction, “O the bliss!” Lest you think he took advantage of too much artistic license, it is signifiant to note that the Greek word makarios, often translated as blessed, can also be translated blissful.

According to Sander’s translation, the refreshed and rephrased Beatitudes read like this:

O the bliss of the those who feel inadequate!
O the bliss of the penitent!
O the bliss of the humble!
O the bliss of the unsatisfied!
O the bliss of the merciful!
O the bliss of the sincere!
O the bliss of those who create harmony!
O the bliss of the sufferer for Christ!

Perhaps because I was raised in Catholic schools and memorized the Beatitudes by rote, Sander’s fresh translation has been shaking my soul.

When first heard, the principles expressed by Jesus in what has become known as the Sermon on the Mount literally turned all the prevailing beliefs of religion and morality on their head. However, we have grown so accustomed to hearing them that they don’t shock us as they did the original hearers.

Sander’s change-up shocked and shook me. What an upside down system of values (or right side up, as Dallas Willard calls it in The Divine Conspiracy)  we who follow Christ espouse.

While the world seeks to promise us bottomless bliss in the form of consumerism, self-reliance, physical comforts and satisfying experiences, Jesus offers us bottomless bliss in the strangest ways.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to feel inadequate the majority of the time. If I am on my A-game as a mother, I am usually flunking as a wife. When I am winning as a wife, I tend to be losing in the professional department. Inadequacy is my near-constant resting state.

According to the gospel, when I experience a seemingly bottomless inadequacy I am invited to a bottomless bliss: the bliss of the inferior.

My inadequacy and daily, desperate needs for patience, wisdom, gentleness, energy and just about everything else are gifts meant to press me into His adequacy.

Unable to rely on self, I am driven to rely on the One who is infinitely worthy of my reliance. There, on my knees in His presence (or on the go in the midst of errands or carpools), as I cry out to Him, I experience the bliss of the inferior in the presence of the Superior.

Initially, my inadequacy makes me feel either bashful or boisterous (or both). Confounded by my near constant inability to do that which I have been called to do, I tend to either want to hide or to try to over-compensate with pretend strength. The gospel invites me to a whole different path: the path of blissful obedience in dependence upon God.

O the bliss of the ones who know that apart from Him they can do nothing!

I must be on my blissfully inadequate way!

 

 

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Forgiven and Free

Familiarity can breed forgetfulness.

When I live with my children, which I most assuredly do, it is easy for me to forget the wonder and beauty contained with each one of them.

A similar thing can happen to us when we approach the Scriptures. After hearing the same stories over and over, it is easy to not only forget the beauty and wonder contained therein, but also to forget that these are real stories of real people encountering the real Christ.

This week, my heart has been hovering over the story of the women caught in adultery recorded in John’s gospel.  It is no wonder that this particular incident stood out indelibly in the memory of the tender-hearted John.  It is also no wonder that John saw fit to include this account in his gospel whose self-stated thesis was, “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

A woman caught in the midst of a lawless act who deserved a rightful consequence of death. A crowd of angry, condemning voices ready to give her what she knew she deserved.  The teacher who simultaneously condemned the sin but protected the sinner.

This incident is loaded with double meaning. It happened as a fact and a reality, but it also pointed to the coming sacrifice of Christ. The One who was sinless stood condemned before an angry mob, taking a punishment that every human deserved that we might walk away forgiven and free to live lives pleasing to Him.

Forgiven and Free

Exposed in an act of iniquity,
Adding public shame to guilt,
Her hidden, personal life
On the square was spilt. 

Stoked by self-righteousness,
The maddened mob’s fire grew,
Hungry to condemn the caught
And finally trap the Teacher, too.

Stooping down in compassion,
The Teacher wrote in the sand,
Inviting the one without sin

To be first to try his hand.

A pile of would-be punishment grew,
As slowly the stones were dropped,
Leaving her alone with Jesus.
Her frightened heart nearly stopped.

She hung her head in shame
Before the only sinless One.
He alone could condemn her.
In a moment, it would be done. 

Cringing and cowering, she awaited
The sentence she fully deserved.
Instead, He utterly spared her life,
As His love flowed unreserved. 

She, though guilty as charged,
Walked away forgiven and free.
He, though perfection personified,
Would soon be hung on the tree. 

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Job’s Jealousy

I have good reason to think that Job would be terribly jealous of all of us who stand on the other side of the Cross.

Having lost all of his earthly comforts, including his family, his health and his possessions, his friends have added insult to injury in their poor, yet understandable attempts to comfort him. By chapter 23, we have a man who is not only suffering unimaginably but who is also suffering alone, as even his closest friends are far from understanding his heart.  In his heart felt plea below, we hear a man is desperate for the presence of the God whom he knows would understand.

Then Job answered and said, “Today also my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy on account of my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments, I would know what he would answer me and understand what he would say to me…Behold, I go forward, but he isn’t there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; and on the left hand when is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.”  Job 23: 1-5 & 8-9.

What Job Didn’t Know

In this monologue of understandable moaning, we hear a man expressing his frustration at what he does not know. In an earnest anguish, he lets us and his friends in one all he does not know.

He does not know where to go to plead his case. He cannot find the courtroom where He instinctively knew He would be received and judged fairly and acquitted. In fact, an even deeper concern is that he cannot even catch a slight glimpse of this Judge He knows and trusts despite his circumstances. He essentially says, “I have searched the globe and my soul in every cardinal direction, North, South, East and West, but I cannot grab a hold of him; I cannot even see Him vaguely.”

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Underneath this desperate and deliberate searching, there lies in the troubled and isolated Job a remaining though deeply shaken faith in the goodness and faithfulness of God.

What Job Knew Vaguely

 “Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?  No, he would pay attention to me. There an upright man could argue with him, and I would be acquitted forever by my judge…But he knows the way I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” Job 23:6-7 & 10.  

Job’s deep though vague knowledge of the character of God should shock us. After all, he lived early on in the redemptive process. He lived in a time where capricious pagan deities ruled the prevailing doctrine of the day,  dancing and doing as they pleased. Even among God’s people, the revealing of God’s character was early in its development.

Yet, somehow, Job vaguely but deeply knew that God was the kind of Judge who would use His great power to protect him and plead his case. Even more than that, despite all he did not know (which was much), Job knew that God knew exactly what was happening and had a great purpose in all of it, even if it was not discernible or palatable to his limited human mind. In all he did not know about God or His ways, Job took immense comfort in the fact that God knew and saw him and his ways completely and compassionately.

What We Know Clearly

Earlier, I said that I think Job would be jealous of us today. When I imagine the earliest spokesperson of Christian suffering looking down from his peaceful place, watching God’s children today suffering, I imagine both compassion and tinge of holy jealousy. I imagine him wanting to both hold us in our experiences of suffering, but also shake us awake to the gifts that we have that he had not.

What Job saw dimly on the distant horizon of hope, we see crystal clear in the gospel accounts.

Job was looking and longing for a place to plead his case. In the life, death and resurrection of Christ, we see that the place is a person, and not just any person, but the God Man who took our punishment that He might plead our case.

Job was looking for a way to access the God He believed in. Though Christ, we have all access passes to the presence of God in the indwelling Spirit who also pleads our case before the Father when we don’t even have words.

 

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The Little Engine That Couldn’t

While I love our tattered and torn copy of the classic The Little Engine that Could as much as the next sappy momma, I find my life cry being its antithesis. The little engine continually chanted “I think I can, I think I can” as it climbed its impossible hill; however,  the more I walk with Christ, the more I realize that I cannot.

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In each season, I tend to have a centering prayer to which my heart returns multiple times throughout the day. I don’t pick them; they seem to pick me. This season, triplet phrases have been my homing call: “I can’t. You must. I shall.”

Rather than leaving me in paralyzed in a pit of despair or shame, I have actually found these twin phrases to produce more and better work than its worldly, self-esteem counterpart.

God has called me to love my husband as I love myself. Apart from Him, I cannot. 

God has called me to raise my three boys in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Apart from Him, I cannot.

God has called me to lead the women of our Church both by teaching them and also by training them to study His Word. Apart from Him, I cannot.

God has called me to see my neighbors as He sees them. Apart from Him, I cannot.

I coud go on all day, but you get the picture. I cannot. 

It used to bother me immensely that God would call me and others to things that He full well knew we could not do; but that was before He began to teach me the profound depths of our union with Christ.

By calling me to do things that I could never do, even on my best day, He is calling me deeper to Himself and His unlimited resources. He sets the bar high so that the only way to move forward is wrapped up like a child in His arms.

St. Augustine’s prayer, “Command whatever you will, only give all that you command” is my constant petition.

While many think the increasing realization that we cannot would lead us to a depressing valley, I find that the impossible hills that I cannot climb lead me to a peak of experiencing God’s always available all-sufficiency. Once I have come (again and again and again) to the realization “I can’t” (after myriad attempts to do whatever the calling on my strength and with my own ingenuity), I can earnestly cry out to God, “You Must.”

From “You Must,” I find myself propelled back into action from His provision and person with a confident, “I shall.

For whatever God asks of us will, indeed, require effort and work. But that work will be anchored in His Word, His strength, His promises, not my own.

I must bring my “I can’t” to His presence and empty my hands of my own attempts. When I do so, I can earnestly cry “You must.” After surrendering my self-sufficiency, I am able to pick up His provisions of strength and wisdom, leaving His presence with a humble “I shall.” 

Simple, but far from easy.

Daily, I wake up living like the Little Engine that Could. Sometimes I live thinking I can for days until I again hit a wall and realize that I simply cannot. God, in His pursuing grace, does not allow me to chug along in my own strength for long. In His tender mercies, He allows me to face my inadequacy and my limitedness.

Even though I do not often receive these realizations well initially, they eventually lead me in desperation to His lap. On His lap, He fills my lap with His power and sends me back out with an “I shall” rooted in the one who does all things well.

Little Engines that Can’t but are attached to the One who Can can climb far greater and more lasting hills than plucky little blue engines who think they can.

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Lessons from a Metal Detector

Late one afternoon when the heat of our home had nearly turned us all into scary monsters, I loaded up my sweaty crew for some sanity by the shore. The salt water breeze and a mostly empty beach were just what we needed. While we were playing and building, an older woman approached on the horizon with her metal detector. My boys watched her serious approach to her searching task and one even stifled giggles, doing externally what I was doing internally.

With the seriousness of a judge, she combed every square foot around us. She had a sifter in one hand, ready to scoop up any rare finds. In the short time that we watched her treasure hunt, she had found two beat up Hot Wheels, long left behind by tired toddlers.

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I know that Christ is the treasure, the one worth selling all (Matthew 13:44). He is multi-faceted and infinitely more valuable than any diamond; the human heart was wired to treasure and to treasure God first and foremost.

However, while I know this cerebrally, I often live like one who holds the Cross in one hand and a metal detector in another, combing the surfaces of this globe and the mountainous terrain of relationships looking for a few more treasures. After all, even those who are truly His children struggle with trivializing and trading our treasure.

Trading Our Treasure

Through Jeremiah as His prophetic mouthpiece, the Lord spoke a harsh indictment of His people, Israel, who were notorious treasure traders.

Has a nation changed its gods even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked and very desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. Jeremiah 2: 11-13.

Before Christ, God’s people turned away from His promises, His premises and His presence, ignorantly convinced that they would find life outside of Him. On the other side of the Cross, we struggle with the same treacherous tendencies.

While we don’t outright trade our salvation (for those who are in Christ are in Him forever), we trade our practical experience of that salvation and all its accoutrements for dirty puddles. Like my children that night at the beach, we dig holes, run with our buckets to fill them and then repeat the process ad nauseam when the water dissipates out.  We reject life as broad and vast and wild as the ocean and prefer our own little hewn out holes and wonder why we are tired from our filling relay.

Trivializing Our Treasure

When I am not attempting terrible trades, I find myself falling into the trap of trivializing Christ, my greatest treasure. Rather than letting Christ and His Cross have both center stage and full directing powers, I relegate them to the ensemble and allow them to share the stage with two-bit treasures that don’t and cannot last. Instead of treasuring Christ alone and tracing back to Him and from Him all the other treasures and gifts that emanate from Him (my husband, my children, my home, my job, my hobbies), I tend to magnify the lesser treasures and minimize the giver of all good gifts (James 1:17).

When I do this, I must look as ridiculous as the metal detector lady looked to me that day. Walking on a beach made of million upon million pieces of sand with majestic waves lapping on her toes, with her head down looking for a treasure, while a far better treasure was all around her, underneath her.

Thankfully, Christ, our Treasure,  is as infinitely patient with His children as He is infinitely jealous to be rightly treasured. When life wears us down, when our trinkets don’t satisfy and the shiny falls off our lesser treasures, when our eyes grow weary from searching through sand, our truest treasure awaits us.

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Ancient yet New

Stale. Bland. Perfunctory. If I am honest, my time with the Lord for the past week has felt like the oatmeal that made you roll your eyes every morning when it greeted you for breakfast.

To be clear, the fault lies not in the gospel, but in my tastebuds and my small-mindedness, my acedia, as the church has historically referred to it.

The grace of God is variegated, multi-colored, multi-faceted, infinitely able to capture us and keep us exploring within its beautiful boundaries. We, however, are dumbed by sin, numbed by busyness, bored by our own limiting choices.

As I sat down to meet with the Lord, I found myself frustrated with the stale bread I was choking down. Jesus, being infinitely gracious, took me by the pointing finger and showed me what He saw.

A little girl camped out in a tiny corner of an infinitely acred field, hidden behind a makeshift fence. Inside the little corner, the land had been plotted and used well. Every square inch accounted for and accumulating trinkets and treasures.

The little girl’s eyes were pooling with tears, as she thought she had exhausted the beauty, the knowledge, the treasure of the field. Arms crossed, she looked upon her treasures. They were beautiful but they were not fresh.

Through a handful of verses in 1 John and an accompanying commentary. The Holy Spirit reminded me, that little girl, of the paradox that the Gospel is ancient yet ever new.

Inviting me out of my corner, the Lord showed me the flowing fields of which my tiny plot was only a portion of a portion of a percentage.

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Yes, it is the same gospel, the gospel that gripped me as a desperate high school girl; yet it is infinitely deeper and larger and richer than I can even fathom. No need for staleness with an infinite God and His living Word.

I don’t need a new novel or a new journal or a new coffee mug, I need new eyes to see the Ancient yet Ever New One. And He delights to give me those whenever I ask and fully intend to use them.

Jesus himself described the gospel as a treasure hidden in a field. Matthew records him saying, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44.

Sometimes, in my short-mindedness, I think that I have exhausted the treasure, figured it out, counted it all. The treasure and the field containing it seems to lose their luster. But God, being rich in His mercy, doesn’t let me believe that lie too long.

Concerning the paradox of the Ancient, yet ever new Christ, MacClaren wrote the following.

“And life’s new circumstances, it’s emerging duties, are like the strokes of the spade which clear away the soil and disclose to us the treasure in all its extend which we purchased when we bought that field. We buy the treasure at once, but it takes a long time to count it. The old Christ is the perpetually new Christ.”

Holding His Hand, being led by His Indwelling Spirit, I have much more to explore and find within this field. The infinite Christ who became finite that I might know the infinite love of the Trinity is here.

I’m off to explore new sights of the Ancient yet perpetually new One.

 

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Bury the Boat

While the only things I have experience burying are my children in sand and a dead guinea pig, I have found myself praying that I would learn to bury the boat. Allow me to explain.

Columba was an Irish abbot who left His native Ireland with twelve men to bring the Good News to the Picts, a group of pagan peoples in Scotland. He founded the abbey on Iona which would become a vibrant center of literacy and faith for centuries to come. Supposedly, after reaching Scotland in his animal hide wrapped wicker boat (called a currach), he burned it, knowing that he and his companions might be tempted to leave when life became uncomfortable or dangerous.

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Upon reading of his act of commitment in burning the boat, I have found myself noticing how often I like to keep my options open, just in case. One of the hallmarks of the Millennial generation is an aversion to commitment, as seen in the silly slang FOMO (fear of missing out) and the more serious struggle to commit to a marriage or a career. In a world full of options and potential paths, we seem to have a hard time picking one and remaining on it.

While the fear of commitment has been heightened of late, it is nothing new. When Christ was initially calling His disciples to follow Him and learn His way of life, He found himself facing would-be disciples with similar struggles.

“To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father…”
Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Luke 9: 59 & 61. 

While initially these sound like understandable requests, it is helpful to understand that the first man’s father may not have even been dead or close to dead. The phrase “let me bury my father” was often used in an idiomatic way to express, “Let me get my family and personal life in order.” Read as such, the first would-be disciple was essentially saying, “Sure, maybe later, once I…”

Both men seem to respond with a desire to follow but a procrastination to commit.  Jesus’ response to them speaks to all of humanity in every age, but has a particular poignancy in our age.

“Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God… No one who puts his hands to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9: 60 & 62. 

Jesus did not mince words, nor did he lessen the cost of discipleship. He did not lower the bar or paint a rosy picture of a life spent following and proclaiming Him to widen His audience or make more palatable a hard pill to swallow. He gave full disclosure, yet He knew the sweetness and rewards of such a life would far exceed the inconvenience and discomfort.

In essence, when we decide to follow Jesus, we must burn (and keep burning) the boat. Tensions and awkward situations, renunciations and reviling will meet you on this path; you will be tempted first to look back and then to turn back to an easier way of life with self at the center. From the outset, Jesus asks that we commit to Him.

While this sounds overwhelming and almost impossible, we must remember that the One who asks for a commitment to Himself, His Word and His ways has fully committed Himself to us.

Before we were born, before time was wound, He had already decided He was all in. He knew He would leave it all to give it all so we could have it all in Him. He left us with the Third Person of the Trinity, one who calls alongside us from close beside us, coaching us, convicting us, comforting us.

By His grace and His empowerment, may we be those who burn the boats that might allow us to turn back to a comfortable and cross-less life. May we fix our eyes on Him who has gone before us once.  May we take courage in His constant commitment to us as seen through His promise, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

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On Emptiness & Fullness

We experience emptiness only to the degree that we have experienced fullness.

Naomi, whose relational cup had been filled with a husband and two sons, felt bereft and empty when she lost all three (thus her temporary name change to Mara meaning bitter).  To the degree that she had been full, she experienced a haunting emptiness.

Those who have been wealthy and file for bankruptcy likely experience more sadness and shock at the emptiness of their account than those who are accustomed to the living paycheck to paycheck, frugally saving.

Those who have feasted most will experience famine more acutely.

In light of this principle, the fullness which was poured into Christ only to be emptied on the Cross is staggering.

In his letter to the Colossian Church, most notably in Colossians 1: 15-20, Paul soars to the heights of Christology.  Here, as in Hebrews 1, Paul paints a glorious theological portrait of the Incarnate Christ, the second person of the Trinity.

I have been slowly trekking through said portrait, but today I was stopped in my tracks in awe.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.  Colossians 1:19. 

Simple sentence. Profound implications.

The Greek word for full is pleroma which literally means filled, completed, abundantly supplied. The image in my mind comes from the Disney movie Aladdin which was a huge  blockbuster hit when I was a child. After Aladdin has accidentally rubbed a magical lamp, the genie attempts to describe his powers and his tight quarters within said lamp. “Phenomenal cosmic powers … Itty bitty living space.”

God was well-pleased (the literal meaning of the Greek word eudokeó translated was pleased) to pour all the fullness of the uncreated, self-existing, all-powerful Triune God into the frame of his Son. I feel like the phrase well-pleased does not do justice to the immense feelings of joy, excitement and anticipation that must have come across the heart of the Father as He prepared His Christ for the height of His divine self-revelation. As a mother, I feel like I have the tiniest taste of such a feeling every Christmas Eve when all the presents and special, unique treasures I have been storing up for my children for months are laid out beneath the Christmas tree and shoved into their stockings, ready to be unwrapped.

God shoved all the fullness of the Trinity into the person of Christ; talk about an itty bitty living space!

After a sweet moment of imaging the Father’s good pleasure at the fullness of God dwelling in Christ, my heart quickly moved to the unimaginable pain of the Father as He emptied His son on the Cross.

After all, Christ was made full that He might be emptied, poured out on our behalf. In another letter to a different church, Paul unpacks the inevitable emptying of the Son which was the desired end for His being made full. In Philippians, we see the emptying of Him who was in very nature with God, yet did not consider equality with God something to be grasped or utilized, but made himself nothing, taking on the very form of a servant (Philippians 2: 5-7).

Kenoo is the Greek word translated as made himself nothing in the above verse. It comes from the root word kenos and literally means to be emptied, to be poured out, to be made valueless.

The heart of the Father knew what He was doing when He was pleased to have the fullness of God dwell in His son. He knew that such fullness would be emptied, poured out on our behalf that we might be filled with His Spirit.

Oh, that we might know His fullness today; that we may live as rich as we are in Him who was emptied on our behalf. Oh, that we might follow His lead, emptying ourselves that others might experience the fullness of the gospel!

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Can Crossfit Coach the Church?

Full disclosure: I do not do Crossfit. I do what I have dubbed “Mom Fit” which means that I daily carry heavy children and groceries and book bags in addition to my brisk walk. That being said, I have been observing the Crossfit movement from afar for quite some time. Many of my dear friends are involved in various Crossfit movements and gyms, and I have even nearly died a few times trying to join them.

As such, I have been pondering this morning what the Church might glean from the Crossfit movement. After all, I see these gyms mobilizing people to do insane and often terribly uncomfortable things daily. I see people involved becoming raving fans who cannot help but invite others to join them. I see Crossfit bringing people together across political, economical and racial lines.

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Clarity & Incremental Goals

It took me quite some time to realize what in the world WOD meant. For those who are couch potatoes or brisk walkers like me, WOD is an acronym meaning Workout of the Day. Each day, the people walking into the Crossfit gym are challenged to a very specific workout. The goal for each day is clear. If the WOD is too challenging, there are adaptable exercises that help participants incrementally gain the strength and form required to eventually do them with greater comfort and ease.

While I am not suggesting that our churches post a daily workout on a chalkboard sign, I do think that we could learn to offer people more clarity. What does it mean to be a member? What is required of volunteers? What does a community group (gospel community, life group, cell group, etc…) actually do for its members?

Rather than expecting that everyone who walks into our doors already possesses the necessary skills to open, read, study, apply and cherish the Word of God, we might learn to offer incremental trainings to get people to place where they can do their daily spiritual workout with confidence and skill.

Community & Consistency 

It seems that people who Crossfit love Crossfit. The community that begins over squats and burpies tends to bleed into other parts of life, morphing into friendships and dinner parties and the likes. From the outside, it seems that they have done an excellent job creating community around challenging tasks, around a shared mission. I most certainly find it hard to imagine waking up and getting excited about pushing my body to its uttermost limits, yet these gyms seem to have done just that!

Perhaps such a sense of community comes from the near-daily expectation of working out; perhaps the community is birthed from the consistency of having a shared public space which is neither the workplace nor the home. Either way, Crossfit gyms seem to have done what the Church continues to try to do: create an intimate community around a shared vision and task.

I recognize that the Church delves into messier areas of life than a gym; however, as a women’s ministry director, I sense I have a lot to learn from the contagious community around a terribly uncomfortable mission.

After all, the Church exists to make much of the name of Christ, to be the family of God here on earth and to equip its people to do the hard work of mortifying sin and living to righteousness (which is a far from comfortable task).

Long-Range Goals & Celebration

I don’t imagine that the Crossfit community promises results overnight. If I were to walk my not-so-toned self into a gym, I presume that they would tell me that while results take time, the end result will be well-worth the sore muscles and torn hands.

Similarly, sanctification and depth of relationship in the context of the local Church will not yield instantaneous results. We would do well to continually set the end-goal of Christ-likeness before our people while also reminding them that day in and day out practices might not always feel good or worthwhile. For no discipline at the time seems pleasant, but painful, but in the end, it produces the peaceable fruit of righteousness in those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).

Perhaps by celebrating the small wins more regularly and highlighting the reality of the struggle on the backdrop of the greater goal, the Church might move closer toward equipping its people for a long obedience in the same direction.

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A Word to Stumpy Souls

Plumerias are strange, stumpy plants that produce the most exotic flowers. Their milky, thick, fragrant flowers, which grow in a variety of colors from fuchsia to white with subtle yellow and everything in between, are used to make beautiful Hawaiian leis.

A friend gifted us a Plumeria stalk which we planted in our old backyard.  Its blooms were arresting, so when we moved, I took a cutting to bring the beauty to our new address.

And so, a strange, stumpy stalk has been sitting in a pot on our doorstep for months. My kids have taunted me, telling me it is dead. To be honest, I can’t fault them for their teasing, as it has most certainly appeared dead, even to me.

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The other day, a tiny leaflet appeared from the stump, and I nearly burst into tears. Lest you think I am that crazy plant lady, I need you to understand why a single leaflet led me worship.

Of late, my soul has felt like my stumpy cutting has looked. It seems that only uncomely things have been coming out of my heart this summer. I am doing the things I know to do, remaining in the Word, fighting to take my thoughts captive, praying and pondering; yet, I have felt like a barren stump.

My soul has felt withered and tight, trapped and taut. With each passing week, my heart became more and more frantic, desperately wanting to feel and sense His presence, to see His face.

What am I doing wrong? Where are the flowers? Is there something wrong?

It has taken a great amount of effort to remain potted, to simply stay where God has me and my soul.

The Lord has had my soul idling in Isaiah 30, the Scripture I run to in barren places, clinging to His word rather than my feelings (or lack thereof).

Therefore, the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.
Isaiah 30: 18-20. 

It helps me to know that in my waiting for His presence, for His face to shine through my numbness, the Lord, too, is waiting. He is actively waiting, preparing, positioning Himself to move in my seemingly stagnant soul. He bids me remain and trust His character and promises, not my discipline, ability to stir up my own soul or pathetic attempts to produce forced blossoms.

He hears my desperate cries for deliverance from the stuck places of sin, for a vibrant walk with Him. And He promises that even after what has felt like scant rations in the unfavorable climate of my soul, I will see Him.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
Psalm 27:13-14. 

Wait. Stay potted. Abide. Remain. Keep watering what appears to be dead. Don’t trust in appearances, trust in His promises.

These have been my watchwords of late, which is why two little blades of life coming from my stumpy cutting filled me with timely hope.

If your soul feels stagnant and stumpy, barren and bald, I pray my slowly growing and gradually returning to beauty Plumeria plants hope in your soul.

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